US judge allows travelers who landed with visas to stay in country

A federal judge blocked the deportation on Saturday of dozens of travelers and refugees from seven Muslim-majority nations, stranded at U.S. airports under an order from President Donald Trump, after a lawsuit filed on behalf of two Iraqis with ties to U.S. security forces.

In the lawsuit filed in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, the two men challenged Trump's directive on constitutional grounds. The suit said their connections to U.S. forces made them targets in their home country and that the pair had valid visas to enter the United States.

The lawsuit highlights some of the legal obstacles facing Trump's new administration as it tries to carry out the directive, which the president signed late on Friday to impose a four-month ban on refugees entering the United States and a 90-day hold on travelers from Syria, Iran and five other Muslim-majority countries.

In an emergency ruling on Saturday, U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly ordered U.S. authorities to refrain from deporting previously approved refugees as well as "approved holders of valid immigrant and non-immigrant visas and other individuals ... legally authorized to enter the United States" from the countries targeted in Trump's order.

See more on reactions to the refugee ban:

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Protests to Donald Trump's refugee ban
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JANUARY 28: Immigration activists stage a protest against President Donald Trump's 90-days ban of entry on 7 Muslim-majority countries in JFK airport in New York, U.S.A on January 28, 2017. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Protestors rally during a demonstration against the Muslim immigration ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport on January 28, 2017 in New York City. President Trump signed the controversial executive order that halted refugees and residents from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. (Photo by Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JANUARY 28: Activists stage a rally against President Donald Trump's 90-days ban of entry on 7 Muslim-majority countries in the Fourth terminal of JFK airport in New York, U.S.A on January 28, 2017. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Protestors rally during a demonstration against the Muslim immigration ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport on January 28, 2017 in New York City. President Trump signed the controversial executive order that halted refugees and residents from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. (Photo by Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JANUARY 28: Immigration activists stage a protest against President Donald Trump's 90-days ban of entry on 7 Muslim-majority countries in JFK airport in New York, U.S.A on January 28, 2017. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 28: Protestors rally during a demonstration against the new immigration ban issued by President Donald Trump at John F. Kennedy International Airport on January 28, 2017 in New York City. President Trump signed the controversial executive order that halted refugees and residents from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
Protesters gather at JFK International Airport against Donald Trump's executive order on January 28, 2017 in New York. US President Donald Trump has signed a sweeping executive order to suspend refugee arrivals and impose tough controls on travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Trump boasted Saturday that his 'very strict' crackdown on Muslim immigration was working 'very nicely,' amid mounting resistance to the order which has been branded by many as blatantly discriminatory. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters gather at JFK International Airport against Donald Trump's executive order on January 28, 2017 in New York. US President Donald Trump has signed a sweeping executive order to suspend refugee arrivals and impose tough controls on travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Trump boasted Saturday that his 'very strict' crackdown on Muslim immigration was working 'very nicely,' amid mounting resistance to the order which has been branded by many as blatantly discriminatory. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
New York City Council Member Carlos Menchaca addresses a crowd during an anti-Donald Trump immigration ban protest outside Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S. January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
A crowd gathers during an anti-Donald Trump immigration ban protest outside Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S. January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
People gather during an anti-Donald Trump immigration ban protest outside Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S. January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Protesters gather at JFK International Airport's Terminal 4 to demonstrate against US President Donald Trump's executive order on January 28, 2017, in New York. Trump has signed a sweeping executive order to suspend refugee arrivals and impose tough controls on travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters gather at JFK International Airport's Terminal 4 to demonstrate against President Donald Trump's executive order on January 28, 2017, in New York. Trump has signed a sweeping executive order to suspend refugee arrivals and impose tough controls on travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters gather at JFK International Airport's Terminal 4 to demonstrate against US President Donald Trump's executive order on January 28, 2017, in New York. Trump has signed a sweeping executive order to suspend refugee arrivals and impose tough controls on travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters gather at JFK International Airport's Terminal 4 to demonstrate against President Donald Trump's executive order on January 28, 2017, in New York. Trump has signed a sweeping executive order to suspend refugee arrivals and impose tough controls on travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters gather at JFK International Airport's Terminal 4 to demonstrate against President Donald Trump's executive order on January 28, 2017, in New York. Trump has signed a sweeping executive order to suspend refugee arrivals and impose tough controls on travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters gather at JFK International Airport's Terminal 4 to demonstrate against President Donald Trump's executive order on January 28, 2017, in New York. Trump has signed a sweeping executive order to suspend refugee arrivals and impose tough controls on travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators hang a banner from a multi-level car park during a protest against Donald Trump's travel ban outside Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
People participate in a protest against Donald Trump's travel ban outside Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 28: Protestors rally during a demonstration against the Muslim immigration ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport on January 28, 2017 in New York City. President Trump signed the controversial executive order that halted refugees and residents from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 28: Protestors rally during a demonstration against the Muslim immigration ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport on January 28, 2017 in New York City. President Trump signed the controversial executive order that halted refugees and residents from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 28: Hundreds of people gathered for a rally at the Chinatown Gate in Boston and marched to the State House in a demonstration against President Trump's new immigration order the day after it was issued, Jan. 28, 2017. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 28: Tori Furtado, from Boston, kneels down to write a sign that reads, 'Love has no borders,' in front of the Chinatown Gate, where hundreds gathered for a rally before marching to the State House in a demonstration against President Trump's new immigration order the day after it was issued, Jan. 28, 2017. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 28: Hundreds of people gathered for a rally at the Chinatown Gate in Boston and marched to the State House in a demonstration against President Trump's new immigration order the day after it was issued, Jan. 28, 2017. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 28: Hundreds of people marched down Kneeland Street in Boston after gathering for a rally at the Chinatown Gate in Boston before walking to the State House in a demonstration against President Trump's new immigration order the day after it was issued, Jan. 28, 2017. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JANUARY 28: Nydia Velazquez seen as protesters gather in a demonstration against President Trumps executive order barring immigrants and refugees from certain predominantly Muslim countries outside JFK airport terminal 4 on January 28, 2017 in New York City. PHOTOGRAPH BY Joel Sheakoski / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Joel Sheakoski / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JANUARY 28: Protesters gather in a demonstration against President Trumps executive order barring immigrants and refugees from certain predominantly Muslim countries outside JFK airport terminal 4 on January 28, 2017 in New York City. PHOTOGRAPH BY Joel Sheakoski / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Joel Sheakoski / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JANUARY 28: Protesters gather in a demonstration against President Trumps executive order barring immigrants and refugees from certain predominantly Muslim countries outside JFK airport terminal 4 on January 28, 2017 in New York City. PHOTOGRAPH BY Joel Sheakoski / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Joel Sheakoski / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JANUARY 28: Protesters gather in a demonstration against President Trumps executive order barring immigrants and refugees from certain predominantly Muslim countries outside JFK airport terminal 4 on January 28, 2017 in New York City. PHOTOGRAPH BY Joel Sheakoski / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Joel Sheakoski / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Protesters gather at JFK International Airport's Terminal 4 to demonstrate against President Donald Trump's executive order on January 28, 2017, in New York. Trump has signed a sweeping executive order to suspend refugee arrivals and impose tough controls on travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters gather outside Terminal 4 at JFK airport in opposition to U.S. president Donald Trump's proposed ban on immigration in Queens, New York City, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Yang
Port Authority Police Department block an entrance as protesters gather outside Terminal 4 at JFK airport in opposition to U.S. president Donald Trump's proposed ban on immigration in Queens, New York City, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Yang
Protesters gather outside Terminal 4 at JFK airport in opposition to U.S. president Donald Trump's proposed ban on immigration in Queens, New York City, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Yang
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JANUARY 28: Immigration activists stage a protest against President Donald Trump's 90-days ban of entry on 7 Muslim-majority countries in JFK airport in New York, U.S.A on January 28, 2017. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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The American Civil Liberties Union, which sought the temporary stay, said it would help about 100 to 200 people who found themselves detained in transit or at U.S. airports after Trump signed the order.

"I am directing the government to stop removal if there is someone right now in danger of being removed," Donnelly said in the court hearing. "No one is to be removed in this class."

U.S. Department of Justice attorney Susan Riley during the hearing said, "This has unfolded with such speed that we haven't had an opportunity to address all the legal issues."

Many of the people in a huge crowd that had gathered outside the Brooklyn courthouse broke out into cheers after word of the judge's ruling filtered out.

SEE ALSO:'It's not a Muslim ban': Trump defends controversial executive order on refugees

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security in a statement hours later said only a small fraction of airline passengers arriving in the United States on Saturday were "inconvenienced while enhanced security measures were implemented."

"These individuals went through enhanced security screenings and are being processed for entry to the United States, consistent with our immigration laws and judicial orders," the statement said.

The department said Trump's executive order remained in place and that its officers would enforce it.

Separately, a group of state attorneys general were discussing whether to file their own court challenge against Trump's order, officials in three states told Reuters.

"TARGETED BY TERRORISTS"

The plight of one of the men who brought the lawsuit, a former U.S. Army interpreter who was detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport, is especially compelling, said David Leopold, a former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, who is not involved in the suit.

"Here is a guy who was a translator who worked for the U.S. military for years, who himself was targeted by terrorists," he said. "It is clear that if he is sent back, he is facing a direct threat to his life."

That man, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, was released later on Saturday and told a crowd of reporters at JFK Airport that he did not have ill feelings about his detention.

"America is the greatest nation, the greatest people in the world," he said.

Darweesh, 53, worked for the U.S. Army and for a U.S. contractor in Iraq from 2003 to 2013 as an interpreter and engineer, the lawsuit said.

SEE ALSO: Kellyanne Conway on Trump executive orders: 'Get used to it ... he's just getting started'

The second plaintiff, Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, 33, was also detained at JFK Airport but has since been released. He is the husband of an Iraqi woman who worked for a U.S. contractor in Iraq. She already lives in Houston, the suit said.

Trump, a Republican, has said his order would help protect Americans from terrorist attacks.

The lawsuit on behalf of the Iraqis challenges Trump's order on several grounds. It says the order violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of due process by taking away their ability to apply for asylum, and violates the guarantee of equal protection by discriminating against them on the basis of their country of origin without sufficient justification.

See more on scenes from JFK Airport after Trump ban:

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Scenes from US airports after Trump's travel restriction
Hossein Khoshbakhty wipes tears from his eyes while speaking during an interview about his Iranian brother, a U.S. Green Card holder effected by the travel ban at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Homa Homaei, a U.S. Citizen from Iran, is embraced by a lawyer working to help her Iranian family members effected by the travel ban at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Port Authority Police Department block an entrance as protesters gather outside Terminal 4 at JFK airport in opposition to U.S. president Donald Trump's proposed ban on immigration in Queens, New York City, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Yang
Attorney Talia Inlender, (C), works on paperwork with lawyers for family members of passengers effected by the travel ban outside of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Lawyers work on paperwork to help family members of passengers effected by the travel ban outside of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Demonstrators gather outside of John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) airport to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order blocking visitors from seven predominantly Muslim nations in New York, U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017. Friday's executive order suspending refugee resettlements and barring entry to people from seven Middle East nations, is 'not a Muslim ban,' President Trump said. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Lawyers work on paperwork for family members of passengers effected by the travel ban outside of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Sarah Saedian speaks with an attorney about her Iranian relatives as lawyers work to help family members of passengers effected by the travel ban at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Hossein Khoshbakhty speaks during an interview about his Iranian brother, a U.S. Green Card holder effected by the travel ban at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Hossein Khoshbakhty, (L), speaks with attorney Talia Inlender about his Iranian family members effected by the travel ban as Homa Homaei, (2nd L), looks on outside the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Sarah Saedian holds a bouquet of roses as she speaks with attorneys about her Iranian relatives working to help her family members effected by the travel ban at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Hossein Khoshbakhty speaks during an interview about his Iranian brother, a U.S. Green Card holder effected by the travel ban at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Attorney Talia Inlender, (R), speaks with Hossein Khoshbakhty, (L), and Homa Homaei, family members of Iranian passengers effected by the travel ban at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
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It also says the order violates procedural requirements of federal rulemaking.

The next hearing in the case was set for Feb. 10.

Supporters of the order say the president has wide authority to limit the entry of foreign nationals from specific countries when it is in the national interest.

"Even if they do and they win, my answer is so what?" said Mark Krikorian, the director of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies.

"We are talking a few dozen people – that is just a last-ditch effort to get the last few people in. It doesn't really change the policy," he said.

Trump's order does not mention specific religions but Trump said in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network on Friday he was acting to help Christians in Syria who were "horribly treated."

Comments like that could come back to haunt the president in litigation over his order, said Hiroshi Motomura, an immigration expert at UCLA School of Law.

"There were comments during the campaign that focused very much on religion as the target," Motomura said. "If the record showed that the origins of a particular measure were based on targeting a particular group, that could be challenged in court."

(Reporting by David Ingram and Mica Rosenberg; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington and Jonathan Allen and Andrew Chung in New York, Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Franklin Paul, Nick Zieminski, Paul Tait and Susan Fenton)

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